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Keywords:

  • age at death;
  • mortality profiles;
  • old age;
  • Worthy Park

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to present a method to facilitate age-at-death estimation of older individuals (generally those aged 50+ years) in a representative cemetery sample. The purpose of disaggregating catch-all categories, such as 50+ years, is to enable the exploration of the elderly (those in their 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s) in the context of mortuary archaeology, bioarchaeology and/or palaeopathology. The methodological steps include the following: (1) assessment of occlusal tooth wear in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery sample from Worthy Park, UK; (2) seriation of the sample, from youngest to oldest, based on the degree of tooth wear; (3) selection of an ethnographically derived model (known mortality profile) by which seriated individuals in the Worthy Park sample could be reallocated to more realistic or appropriate age classes; (4) reallocation of individuals in the seriated Worthy Park sample to the model age classes. A Hadza, Tanzania, hunter-gatherer profile was chosen to model the Worthy Park sample, although others are available. By using this model, some 66% of the entire adult sample, originally allocated to the single final age category of 45+ years, was distributed across four new age categories from the mid-40s to mid-70s. Relatively straightforward, this approach provides a way to identify those individuals, 50+ years old, not normally sensitive to traditional age-at-death estimation methodologies currently available. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.